Through all the places that I discovered in Kolkata, one song kept me company: Abhi Na Jao Chhor Kar Ki Dil Abhi Bhara Nahi. I felt in every moment that the divine—however we may choose to define such a thing—surely dwells as much in the concrete and taxi cabs as it does in the rivers, lakes, and mountains. Grace, I realised, is neither time nor place dependent. All we need is the right soundtrack.
The last call of my flight to Kolkata went off, I was late by 7 odd minutes. Seconds before boarding the flight my hands trembled with fear. I made a call to my best friend, convinced that I couldn’t do this anymore. A sleepy voice from the other end of the telephone made it better—enough for me to have myself sandwiched between a woman who wouldn’t shut up and a man who wouldn’t talk at all.
Everyone back home was thinking that I was crazy enough to plan myself a two-months long trip, all by myself while I was looking forward to the taxis rushing on the streets, painting the city yellow; the incessant jabbering of men who found solace at Chaa’er Adda after a long day at work, the city lights softly casting reflections on the roads drenched with the onset of monsoon, the faint smell of belonging to the city that I was visiting for the first time.
Most people in the city are driven rashly by a sense of purpose irrespective of whether they have discovered it already or not. Having identified with myself as a delhite for surviving in Delhi for a decade, I never quite belonged to the place. And Kolkata didn’t treat me very special either but I had come to feel like she wanted me here to grow, learn and stay.
It did not take effort to synchronise my senses to the pace of the city as I walked through narrow lanes, identified landmarks, crossed junctions, found comfort even amidst the crowd jostling past me; smell from open sewers didn’t itch my nose anymore. The bus conductors recited a list of places the bus would stop at like a marvellous piece of spoken word poetry. I got better at, not only speaking Bangla but, also reading it off sign boards, name plates, public notices, advertisements on bill boards.
By 7 A.M., I was out on the streets everyday, humming Robindro Sangeet. I preferred walking and being declared insane for doing so, I wondered what sanity did people find in seating eight in a space for four in autos or rickshaws. I would have gladly accepted a slower mean of travelling than walking, had there been one. Nothing quite depresses me more than the apprehension of missing out on something ‘life-changing’ on the streets when I hire a taxi. Despite the fact that traffic mobility on the roads is comparatively slower than other metropolitan cities in India, people don’t seem to complain; the extreme weather fluctuations keep their minds preoccupied to be wavered by such ‘petty’ discomforts.
I looked at scenes on the road in terms of potential photographic frames: A tired labour took his afternoon nap reclined against his haath-gaadi while a dog snoozed by his feet. A group of school girls waited for their respective turns to be served with fuchkas on a street, one of them carefully wiped the spilled chutney off her uniform before it left a permanent stain.
Men, circled and seated around in corners under the street lamp, bet money on a game of cards, others were commentators, motivators to their friends, or mere spectators. Women savoured the pedas, sondesh and mishti-doyi at small sweet shops with an excitement equivalent to that in the eyes of young boys who enjoyed a game of football in a ground turned into a huge puddle after a heavy downpour. Overprotective mothers clutched onto their child’s arms tightly while crossing roads and men gossiped about sports, the government and literature.
I found the heart of the city confined to cups of tea with sugar content four times the permitted value prescribed by the doctor against diabetes. Most of my evenings were spent in tea shops that I discovered in narrow lanes instead of seedy bars-the Kolkata air did not require cheap alcohol to make you an artist.
From cheap books, old libraries, good coffee, art supplies and stationary in College Street to shopping spree in Bara Bazaar, Shyam Bazaar, Gariahat and New Market. From gaping at old mansions in awe in North Kolkata, to sitting under a tree in Maidan and staring at the Victoria Memorial far away. From bargaining with vendors in the Flower Market, to unplanned dips in the Hooghly River, to watching boatmen fetch customers at the Ghat, to appreciating art and sculpture at Kumartuli, to finding peace of mind and gaining wisdom at Tagore’s abode, to acting pretentious in restaurants and clubs in Park Street, I unfolded myself along with the city.
The best part about travelling, what most people will tell you, is coming across people who lead a very different life than yours, hide secrets deeper than you do, experience graver problems without complaining. It teaches you that patience, happiness, kindness and love are not classroom lectures; you need to step out and feel them.
When you feel that you are old enough to take responsibility of your own baggage and are now ready to see the world with your own eyes, looking past years of conditioning that taught you that home is just a four walled structure, you will also come to terms with the fact that no amount of adventure compensates for the inability to feel. Families only stick with you until you have a place to go or for better, you realise that this is not where you belong. And maybe, we don’t really belong to a place unless we let go off the idea of what home feels like.
This entry was submitted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest, Wanderlust in association with Mood Indigo, IIT-B. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.
Submitted by: Nishita Karun